I was halfway through my second semester of sophomore year when my university sent an email telling students to pack up and go home because of COVID-19. Those 72 hours were spent crying, packing, drinking, saying goodbye, and resenting the airline for forcing me to spend $600 on a last-minute flight home. In three days, my world — and the world of university students across the country — changed forever. I left California, moved back in with my parents, and fell into a slight state of depression. I was missing out on what should have been some of the best moments of my life. Everyone told me when I left for university that it would never get better than this, but now, some of those precious months of glorious youth were taken from me, traded in for online classes and banana bread.
Can I afford to get sick this autumn, miss classes, and put my family at risk? I don't think I can, and I sincerely doubt many university students can.
I'm not going to pretend like I'm the biggest victim of this whole pandemic — that would be ridiculous and cruel and demonstrate a complete lack of reality. There are people dealing with much more than I am, and I know how lucky I am to have my health and my family. But I'm still sad, because this whole experience has torn apart my understanding of the world. For so long, I always thought that adults knew exactly what they were doing. But as I've gotten older, I've realised that no matter what age you are, you always just do the best you can with what you have. This pandemic has proved that the powerful professors and big university administrators I always thought had every single answer sometimes don't. And that's not their fault. That's just life.
Universities around the country are currently struggling with the decisions of how to open up (if at all) this autumn. Some schools are planning on opening part-time and asking students to leave after Thanksgiving. Other institutions are hopeful that no matter what, things will be open and business as usual come September. It seems no school is ready to accept another semester of empty campuses and online lectures. But this is not just a decision colleges are making — it's also up to us, the students, to decide whether we're ready to go back.
For me, I know I have to trust that my university and its president have our best interests at heart, but there are also so many uncertainties. Even if my university takes all the necessary steps to make our campus safer, do I believe my fellow students will follow whatever social-distancing guidelines are in place? I can't know that for sure, and that scares me. I worry about going back to school, then coming home and infecting my parents. I worry about finances and, even with insurance, if we could afford a long hospital stay. And these questions aren't specific to me, but rather ones that probably most students have. Can I afford to get sick this autumn, miss classes, and put my family at risk? I don't think I can, and I sincerely doubt many university students can.
I've loved my university experience thus far, and I want nothing more than to go back to the campus I love so much. I've had incredible professors who made the transition to online lectures as easy as they could. I love my classmates, my dorm, and even the dining hall. But I just don't know what the future of the campus looks like.
Many students can't afford to take a semester off, and others don't have a stable home environment to support online learning. Being on campus is the best bet for a lot of my peers, but what happens when your best bet is no longer safe? I'm hoping a vaccine will be ready and widely available come autumn, but nobody can know for sure. If my university does plan on being open, I hope it communicates exactly how our safety is being considered. The rest is up to me.